Alberta is reporting its first case of vaping-associated lung illness, bringing the total number of Canadians made severely sick by e-cigarettes to 15.
The province’s chief medical officer of health, Deena Hinshaw, confirmed the case on Thursday, saying the person was an adult who became ill in early December and had inhaled nicotine from one of the battery-powered devices.
The patient is recovering at home after a stay in hospital, Dr. Hinshaw added. She declined to release more information, citing privacy concerns. However, Dr. Hinshaw said the case is a crucial reminder that vaping is not without risks.
“People who are vaping are taking substances into their lungs that can have both short- and long-term health impacts,” she said in an interview. "That is something that it’s important for everyone to be aware of as they’re making decisions about their health.”
Also on Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced a ban on fruit- and dessert-flavoured liquids in prefilled vaping cartridges.
The ban won’t apply to tank-based e-cigarettes that allow users to fill the device with the flavour of their choice. Such devices are reported to represent about 40 per cent of the U.S. vaping business, and are usually sold at specialty vape shops that don’t admit customers under 21.
The Canadian government announced last month that it was planning to ban e-cigarette promotions from convenience stores, public transit and all social-media platforms, but it did not unveil any proposed limits on the enticing flavours – such as green apple and cotton candy – that have contributed to a major rise in teen vaping.
A spokesman for Health Minister Patty Hajdu said last month that the ministry expects to introduce rules on flavoured e-cigarettes in the coming months.
Canada began tracking vaping-related lung illness last fall, after illnesses in the United States drew international attention. U.S. researchers linked the sickness to vitamin E acetate, an oily chemical sometimes added to tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) vaping liquids.
Dr. Hinshaw said the Alberta patient was believed to have vaped nicotine products only.
People with vaping-related lung illness, many of them otherwise healthy teenagers and young adults who had used e-cigarettes, suffered shortness of breath, chest pain and in some cases, vomiting, diarrhea, fevers and deep fatigue. The products typically heat a nicotine solution into an aerosol that can be inhaled.
In the United States, the illness has sent 2,561 people to hospital, 55 of whom have died, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control’s most recent update, on Dec. 27.
Vaping-related illness has not hit Canada as hard.
In its most recent update, the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) said it had been informed of 15 cases – including the new one in Alberta, five in Quebec, four in Ontario, three in British Columbia and two in New Brunswick – and no deaths.
Three of the Canadians were teenagers, and four were between the ages of 20 and 34.
The emergence of vaping-related illness has helped draw public and political attention to the potential dangers of vaping, including the risk of hooking teenagers and people in their 20s on e-cigarettes.
While the vaping industry has said it intends to market only to adults who want to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, a Globe and Mail investigation last year found that many e-cigarette companies target teenagers and young adults on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms to post about their products and sponsor giveaways, and hire influencers.
Figures released by Health Canada last month show the number of students in Grades 7 to 12 who say they vaped in the past month doubled in 2018-19 compared with 2016-17.
With reports from Carly Weeks and the Associated Press